Well now you're just making this awkward.
Sorry. Jesus. And here I thought you guys liked me.
Looking forward to spending the week at one of my favorite tournaments, The Bank of the West Classic in Stanford. Main draw play starts tomorrow. Here's the OOP.
(Pics: Forty Deuce)
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt.
Who knows what to expect from these two. I sure as hell don't. Sure, Sam had a solid run in Rome and Frank had an ok run in Brussels, but whatever. Crazy shit happens in Paris. Justine won in 2007, then retired a year later. Ana won in 2008, and well, let's not talk about it. Sveta won in 2009, and well, let's not talk about that one either. So Frank won last year. What happens now?
Well after two rounds they've both looked solid, Sam in particular. All the hesitation and panic that you normally see in Sam's game just seems to vanish in Paris. I dare say she even has a bit of a strut. She *knows* what to do and it's just a matter of executing it.
I'm encouraged by what I've seen so far. Keep it up, you two.
Hey! Did you guys know that Sam Stosur is actually pretty good at tennis? I KNOW, RIGHT??? I TOTALLY forgot. But then she steps onto this magic red dust and *poof* she reminds us all that yeah, she's pretty good tennis and yeah, she's pretty fucking extra good when that tennis is played on dirt. She beat Bepa in Stuttgart to make her first semifinal (losing to eventual champ Gools, which...is what Sam does), had a bit of a blip on the quick courts of Madrid, and now she's made her first final since Roland Garros (dude...I know), beating some quality opponents, vanquishing some demons, and most importantly, turning in some high-quality performances that served as a reminder to everyone (including herself) that she can be absolutely devasting on clay.
First up, taking out Frank, on clay, in Rome. This was no easy task. Frank told the Italian press that her goals for 2011 were to win Rome and defend Paris, both of which she believed she could do. So....PRESHUH. For sure Sam was in better form coming into this rematch, but Lordie, I just don't know what to expect when these two square off. How would Sam perform playing against Frank, on red clay, in Rome, in front of 12,000 vocal Italians?
As it turned out, pretty damn good. She turned in her best performance since Roland Garros. Dominating tennis from first point to last point without ever having a lapse or allowing Frank (or the crowd) to believe she could get back into the match. I wooted in my pants.
Second up, the resurgent Nails, who's finally finding her form since her Moose-like post AO slump. She's dumped her husband as coach (just as coach, you guys, just as coach) and the change seems to have given her a spark. On Saturday she battled back from a break down in the first set to force a tiebreak, in which she would have a set point. But despite being broken while initially serving for the set, Sam steeled herself and eeked out the tiebreaker 8-6. After that it was all Sam, who quickly dropped a bagel on Nails to advance to the final.
She'll get Masha, who, let me remind everyone, she has never ever in her entire life beaten. Yeah yeah yeah, they've never played on clay. But I'll be absolutely Home-Alone-Aftershave-Scene shocked if Sam gets her first title of the year here. And I'm ok with that. Just don't play like an idiot and I'll be happy, Sammo.
Don't you love my high expectations?
(Pics: Getty, Forty Deuce)
I've seen a lot of Fran and Sam during my Miami and European stint. And they've seen quite a bit of each other, too. They played doubles in Indian Wells and Madrid, practice together early in the tournaments, and tomorrow they'll play each other in the quarterfinals of Rome. That's right, I will be on hand to witness a rematch of the match that destroyed my soul last year.
This is a dangerous time, people.
So, in an attempt to stay on the postive and keep with the happy, here's some picspam of Frank and Sam from Madrid and Rome. I am absolutely fascinated with their friendship. May they forever be besties.
And also may Sam win tomorrow. IT'S ONLY FAIR.
Whatever. I'll take it. Looks like Sam and Sabine hit it off as doubles partners. They'll look to team up again in the future.
"She's always laughing and smiling, there's no chance to be down."
So I guess playing with Sabine is pretty much like watching Sabine. Good to know.
(Pics: Getty, AP)
It's not clay. It's magic dust.
And omigosh that kit looks like a hospital gown.
Sam came back from a set down to beat a string-breaking Bepa 26 63 76(3), to score her biggest win of the year, first win over a top 10 player of the year, and first semifinal of the year. It also just happened to be the best match she played all year.
What is it about the combination of clay and Bepa that brings out the best in Sam? I don't know, but let's just say I won't be freaking out if they land in the same part of the draw in Paris. Is Sam back? HAIL NAW. It was one fucking match. But it was one fucking match that saw her come back from being a set down and win in a third set tiebreak. She's been dropping the close ones left and right this year. This was a huge step forward. Methinks DT gave her a nice pat on the back when she got back to the locker room.
As for Bepa, gurl, I don't know how much Prince and Gamma are paying you, but you've been busting strings for the past year. Today you went through 9 freshly strung racquet and had to play with a replacement racquet while you were waiting for your racquets to get restrung. Figure this out quickly, because it's been happening for a while now.
Sam will take on Julia Goolia in Saturday's semis (no play on Friday b/c it's...Good Friday). Julia turned in a remarkable performance against Sabine. Sabine wasn't playing poorly, but what ball striking for Julia! Hands down the best match I've ever seen from her.
So it'll be another ball-crunching match on Saturday. I have to think that if Sam can get the ball kick on her serve and forehand, she should be able to negate Goolia's power. But then again, isn't that always the book on Sam? The gameplan isn't a mystery. Her ability to execute is.
(Pics: AP, Getty)
Last week, I had a conversation with a friend who was surprised that I was a big Sabine fan. "Oh yeah, I've always liked her. There just...hasn't been much to write about her lately :("
Remember the early days of FD? Boom Boom Sabine firing down double-digit aces, making deep runs at Slams, body-checking a pissy Caro, and winning Premier tournaments, all the while rocking the most ridiculous eye makeup this side of Gaga? Those were good times.
Then injury struck. Horrible injury after horrible injury. She got dropped by Adidas (FUCK YOU, ADIDAS! You're a German company for Chrissakes!) and she was stuck in the qualifying doldrums, getting her ass kicked every which way while she struggled to hit the ball over the net and into the court.
But dare as I ask? Is Boom Boom back? She scored a nice win over Christina McHale over the weekend and came out today to beat Domi in straights, easily her best win in over a year. She'll take on Nails tomorrow after Nails broke her five match losing skid with a win over Sevastova.
Did you hear Sabine has teamed up with Sam for doubles this week? That's a big-serving team right there. Sam looked preeeeeeetty horrible for most of the first set. She raced out to a 3-0 lead behind some heavy serving and hitting, and then MGMT's wily dropshotting ways seemed to get into the kid's head. But at 5-5 Sam buckled down, won the next two games with some crazy shot-making, and then reeled off a 5-0 lead in the second, eventually taking it 75 61.
PHEW. She gets Dani.
For better or worse, there's never any delusion with Sam Stosur. I mean, she may give non-descript, cliched answers at her press conferences that make it seem like things are all gravy behind the glasses (if anyone even requests her for press, which...not so much), but we all know she's pretty aware of what's up. How do we know?
Because you know Dave's there giving her the 411 and keeping things brutally true.
"There's physically no problem at all but no doubt she's having some problem dealing with the expectation and pressure of being a top player. Her year hasn't been what she'd hoped but gee she's trying hard to get on top of it."
Taylor mentioned players like former world No.1s Dinara Safina and Ana Ivanovic, who saw their rankings plummet as they struggled with "being the hunted rather than the hunter".
"I wouldn't put her in that category ... but her results haven't been that of a top player and that's something she's trying to address."
He said Stosur felt "discouraged" by her lack of form - she hasn't made a quarter-final this year or beaten another top 10 player since last October and lost her second match when defending the clay court title in Charleston last week.
"She needs a good result in Stuttgart now, there's pressure on.
"If she doesn't have a good next month that will really affect her chances to do well in Roland Garros."
Ooooookay. Noooooooo pressure.
Man. I really know how to pick 'em, huh? But I wouldn't have it any other way. I guess.
Not entirely surprising that she decided to skip Fed Cup, but then I realized that Dave will be down in Australia for the week. Who's she going to hit with while she's practicing in Europe? Frank? Sure, no PTSD there for the Corgi. None at all.
I've just got...a very bad feeling about all of this....
(Pics: Forty Deuce)
Another comprehensive win for Masha over Sam (64 61), upping her career H2H to 7-0. The key to the match was Masha's return of serve. She did a great job negating the effectiveness of the kicker and getting into Sam's head. Not that that second part is all that hard. #wahwah
It seems pretty obvious that Sam just doesn't match up well with tall heavy-hitters. Make them blonde and it's just straight up Corgi Cryptonite. A bit disappointing that Sam couldn't put up much of a fight in the second set. Sure, Masha was en fuego but it just felt like Sam already threw in the towel mentally. There's a kid with no confidence right now. I'm hoping the magic fairy dust of clay will miraculously change things. I'm not all that hopeful.
Go get it, Masha. She's got Dulgheru in the quarters (yes, she beat Peng) and then either Petko or JJ. I know I should root for Petko in that match, but I wouldn't mind a little Bollitieri's Revertigo. Masha/JJ matches RULE.
(Pics: Forty Deuce)
Caught Sam's practice session yesterday. I was quite curious to see a preview of Dave's gameplan.
It basically involved a lot of slicing. At least that's what they were working on.
I really love watching Dave and Sam work. She was getting frustrated, he offered some minor adjustments, she incorporated them immediately, and all was well again.
You don't see that often. Most times players hear their coaches tips but just keep doing what they were doing, or in some cases, the coaches don't offer any tips at all. At least not immediately.
And now I will close with actual photo evidence that Sam does laugh.
Dave almost hit someone with a shanked return. Sam giggled:
(Pics: Forty Deuce)
Sometimes I say things out loud and I don't think them through. Expressing rather publicly that I wanted a Masha/Sam fourth rounder would be one of those things. While Masha was cruising over Sabine on Stadium Court (how does that kid not not a clothing sponsor? She so should!) 62 60, Sam was kiiiiiinda cruising over Lucie, 60 76(1).
Sam was striking the ball really cleanly and for the second straight match she was serving really well. That said, Lucie just didn't show up until her back was against the wall in the second set, down 2-5. She would hold, play a good game to break Sam when she served for the match, then held to even it up at 5-5. But once they got to the breaker Sam ran away with it. It was a weird match but a solid performance by Sammy.
So we get the match-up I wanted and I'm already so conflicted. I guess all I want is a good match. I would hate for these two to take the court and just spray the ball everywhere but in the court, which we all know they're capable of doing. It'll be interesting to see if the kicker affects Masha. I can't think it will. She tall. Masha's serve will be crucial (duh), and we'll see if Sam can hang in the rallies long enough to get in a position to dictate with the forehand. I have a feeling Maria's going to come out of the gate's firing. If she's on, this one could be over quickly.
Masha on Sam: "She's a top 5 player and she's been so consistent, so tough to beat. I really look forward to that. We haven't played each other in a while. Obviously she has a great serve, good all-around game, good mover. Yeah, look forward to taking my chances on that one."
Sam on Masha: "Another player I've never beaten before. Hopefully today means good things for the next match. I haven't matched up well against her in the past, but I also haven't been the player I am now in the past either. So I'm sure I can look back on those things and look at what she does and how she's playing at the moment and hopefully Dave and I can come up with a good gameplan, I can execute it, and I can come up with my first win."
So...Masha's going to take chances and Sam's gonna come up with a "gameplan." Lord help us.
(Pics: Forty Deuce)
Worried that my devotion to Sam has waned? WORRY NOT.
She's been around, hitting forehands, serving bombs, running from crowds. You know how she do.
I missed her practice this morning but apparently she was escorted from her court by four uniformed security guards. Really? For Sam? But then I realized that A-Rod had taken over her court. I kinda think Sam just happened to be walking back to the player lounge while the cops were heading back after dropping Andy off. Right place, right time, great pic.
Ah, the tennis. Um, yeah, she won 2 and 1 over Jay-Z. She served really well so that's good news. But the ball wasn't coming clean off her groundstrokes at all, which obviously has me frazzled for her match against Lucie. Also, she started whacking her neck like a fool before a return of serve, ostensibly swatting a fly that didn't exist. It was funny though.
Awwww. Look at her little corgi legs! They don't reach the ground. Get the kid a footstool or something.
(Pics: Forty Deuce)
I enjoy the WTA's All-Access Hour and if I'm ever lucky enough to get to a tournament early enough to attend them, I do. For the most part they give you an opportunity to actually talk to a player, as opposed to shout questions at them, and you can ask some of the more off-beat questions that may not be appropriate for a press conference.
The hour started with JJ, who still sounds like she's been out smoking and partying. The low, gravelly, raspy voice makes it borderline impossible to understand her sometimes. But the one you can never misread is JJ's face. At one point, a journo asked her what she thought of Nole's amazing run and whether she had any thoughts as to why he was so inspired. As she started to answer, a male journo, with a smart-alecky tone, exclaimed "Maybe's it's Ana!" and started laughing at his own joke. I stifled a gasp and literally stepped back five steps. Sure enough, JJ stopped her answer, silently shot him a deathglare for a good 5 seconds, and then kept answering.
JJ, 1, Ignorant and Rude Journo, death. Seriously. So rude.
Next up, after turning to see Bepa in a spectacular Ed Hardy hoodie chatting with a journo in Russian, I decided to lady up and chill by Sam's table. After wiping the beads of sweat from my brow, I finally asked her a question that I've had for her since Indian Wells: What's your take on your year so far?
I haven't had the season that I wanted to yet, that's for sure. I played some pretty good tennis and feel like I'm playing quite well on the practice court. Haven't been able to put it together in a tournament yet unfortunately. But at least I feel like I'm playing well, I'm feeling fit and doing the things I need to do. Hopefully for me it's not too far away and it's just around the corner, getting good results. You gotta go through these times, it hasn't been horrible but it hasn't been what I wanted.
Way to get it all emo, Court! Quite the talent you have.
Next up, Vika. Yes, I know I've been papped repeatedly while talking with Vika. If you read FD enough you might be wondering, "What the hell were you talking to Vika for?" Well the one awkward thing that can happen at AAH is that some players end up not getting talked to, or they get 5 questions and all the journos leave to go talk to Kim or Caro or something. That almost happened to Vika and I just kind of felt bad. So I stuck around with her and chatted about the friendships on tour, the cameraderie, why she thought that was, etc. It was actually kind of nice. I suspect she's a perfectly nice person when she's not talking tennis.
"I think more [cameraderie]. I don't want to sound cocky or anything but I think a lot of us young players brought it. Because we came from juniors and we have the competitors between us but we also have our friendship. We have our rivalries on the court but we're normal people off the court. We see each other at every tournament. I think we brought a lot of that into the game, also from the men's tour. I think it's great. I think for the fans it's exciting to see how we have relationships between all of us, not just the lower ranked players.
It's very exciting. It makes it easier for us to joke around. It's part of the tennis life and it's part of being a tennis family."
And on her groin injury:
"I'm trying get back. Practiced a little bit yesterday, just easy. And it was not a tear but it was still a strain. Trying to recover and hopefully I'll be fine."
From there it was over to Fran's table, where those who were smart enough to ignore Kim and take in the Schiavone Experience were literally on the edge of their seat, leaning forward, listening intently. That's what Fran does. She draws you in, whether she's hooha-ing on court, or dropping truth-bombs in what I can only describe as her bedroom voice. It's a well-articulated raspy drawl that hovers just above a whisper. It's bomb, is what I'm saying.
One thing I love about watching AAH or press conferences is that moment when a player gets asked tricky question, you're silently screaming the right answer in your head, and then they totally nail it. It's like prepping a witness for the stand and seeing your witness totally nail their cross-examination. I had one of those moments during Fran's presser. One of the journos spent most of his/her time asking every single player about Serena and Venus. This was part of his exchange with Fran:
Q: Do you miss them? Do you feel like "this thing is wide open without Serena." More fair for everybody? A better chance to win any tournament you're in?
A: "Well yeah. When I win the French Open, there was Venus and Serena. For sure they are tremendous athletes but at the same time, we are other great competitors. For sure we are gonna miss them."
YES. FISTPUMP. NAILED IT. The minute he asked the question all I could think was "Wait, she won a Slam and Serena and Venus were there. To her *any* tournament is wide open regardless." You go on, Frank.
Also, your hipster glasses are awesome:
(Pics: Forty Deuce)
I was *thisclose* to rescheduling my flight to Miami to get there in time for today's draw ceremony. I'm so glad I didn't. I'm not sure I would have been able to hide my facepalming while trying to act professional.
Alrighty. Back to packing and saying goodbye to the dogs, two things I hate doing.
Posted by C Note on March 16, 2011 in Agi Radwanska, Andrea Petkovic, Andy Murray, Daniela Hantuchova, Dinara Safina, Ernests Gulbis, Feliciano Lopez, Fernando Verdasco, Francesca Schiavone, Gilles Simon, Igor Andreev, Indian Wells, Janko Tipsarevic, Jelena Jankovic, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Kei Nishikori, Maria Kirilenko, Milos Raonic, Pic This!, Sam Stosur, Sania Mirza, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Vera Zvonereva | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
It's fun being a tennis fan. It's even more fun when you have a player, that ONE player in your stable that you absolutely adore. You see them walk out on the court and your smile broadens to face-breaking proportions. Everything they do is hilarious, adorable, awesome, and fantastic. "Look! He's taking a picture with a koala!" "ZOMG, she's riding a jetski! Isn't it the best thing you've ever seen?" "OMG, he just picked his butt! I want to sniff his fingers he's so cute!" Everything they do is viewed through rose-colored glittery lenses and they can do absolutely no wrong.
If one were a hard-core fan of one Samantha Jane Stosur, one would know that these two and a half months of tennis haven't been all that groovy. BUT, as a hard-core fan of the Foreceped Marvel, one would also be inclined not to have hit the panic button. Sure, there have been lots of losses, but they've been quality losses!
Losing to Jarka in Brisbane? Whatever, that was the first tournament of the year. She's just rusty! Losing to Sveta in Sydney? Oh, it's just Sveta. Sveta can have her unbeatable days. Losing to Petra in Melbourne? Tall, flat-hitting left-hander? That's her kryptonite! It was a tough draw and Petra's a total up an comer. Losing to Flavia and Fran at Fed Cup? Pfft. It's Fran and Flavi! They're in her head. She's still a fantastic player. She just needs matches. Losing to JJ in Dubai? JJ's finding her rhythm again and it's not like she's a scrub! All in all, aside from her losses to Jarka and Petra, she played a bunch of tight three setters that really could have gone either way. That's just tennis, right? And everyone knows Sam plays like crap in Australia.
That said, one would also know that Ms. Stosur came into Indian Wells on the cusp. Either she was going to come out of it solidly reasserting herself as a player who has earned the right to be expected to win matches into the later rounds, or she would suffer yet another early round loss and slip the other way into Question Mark Town. You know that town. That's where all the high ranked players who always seem to get picked as the player to crash out early of a tournament live. It's not Irrelevance City, but it ain't Top Dogsville, either.
Losing to Dinara, who serve aside (16 DFs!!!) played remarkably well, isn't necessarily a bad loss. Dinara was crushing the ball for winners and displaying that aggressive game that seemed to have escaped her. But in this case it wasn't the result that was the problem. It was the performance. And no one, not even the biggest Samantha Stosur fan in North America (I dare you to challenge me) could walk away from that match with any credibility without acknowledging one painful, sobering fact: Sam played like absolutely crap and there are absolutely no excuses for it.
Losing 50-50 rallies or having someone impose their game on you so that you are absolutely useless is one thing. I saw that earlier today when Flavia played Kleybs. Kleybs was crushing the ball for winners and Flavia could do nothing about it. But when Dinara is serving 70 mph second serves to your forehand and you're dumping them into the net repeatedly, or when you have a neutral ball and just flat out sail it long over and over and over and over and over again, that's not because you're getting outplayed. That's because you're playing horribly and for whatever reason, can't get yourself into it.
Now, the hardcore fan in me desperately wants to think this was a one-off match. "Oh, she just didn't have it today. Happens to everyone." Trust me, a huge part of me, namely my heart, wants to hit Ctrl-A, Delete on this whole post. But I can't escape the one thing that has been nagging me throughout my travels around Australia and now the US watching Sam play tennis.
She's not serving well. She's not hitting aces, she's not getting the flat serve over and in, and she's not doing enough on her kicker to force a short ball that she can hit for a winner. At her best, Sam's service games are a series of regular 1-2 punches. That's not happening in 2011. She's finding herself stuck in rallies that, if she's able to control, she can't seem to terminate. It is absolutely infuriating to watch and it's what drove me early in the second set to start audibly whining.
It wasn't my proudest moment.
So there it is. I think Sam's in a slump and I think she'll stay in that slump until she rights her serve. It's the cornerstone of her game. She has to be able to hold easily and right now, that's not happening. Who knows. Maybe she'll figure it out in Miami or in Charleston when her feet hit the clay. What I do know is that the rosy glitter glasses have been yanked from my face and I now believe that her ineffective serve is the reason she's been losing lately. Not the matchups.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to see a bartender about a bottle of whiskey. That's the only way I'm sleeping tonight.
(Pics: Forty Deuce)
Safina d. Stosur, 76 64.
Nailed, Coconut. NAILED IT.
Did anyone see this coming? Not just posting up a win over a top 5 player, but playing as well as she did? In between my moments of absolute disgust over Sam's level of play and my attempts to stave off depression, I was floored by Dinara tonight. That is, without a doubt, the best I've seen her hit the ball off the ground in over a year. Sure, she served 16 DFs and was pretty touch and go whenever she went up for that serve, but she moved fairly well, got a bunch of balls back, and played aggressively with success.
To quote Andrew Krasney, the on court announcer, during the post-match interview: "You look like you need a hug. Can I give you a hug?" I think the entire tennis world is with you, Andrew.
It was an amazing performance and if the person on the other side of the net wasn't who she was, I would be over the moon right now. Well done, Dinara. You so owned it and you absolutely deserved to win that match.
She'll play her fourth straight match on Stadium Court tomorrow against Masha (who destroyed Rezai in straights), another Russian trying to fight her way out of an injury-sparked slump. Asked about Masha, "She's coming back from injury, too. A little higher ranked than me. (pause) Just 100 spots." Heh.
After what I saw from Dinara tonight, you'd be an idiot to bet against her. You'd probably be an idiot to bet on her, too, so let's not be idiots and sit back and enjoy what's happening.
(Pics: Forty Deuce)
I just don't get it, Fran. When you're across the net from her you play like a god. When you're next to her you play like a goat. Not a GOAT. A goat. Why are you hell-bent on making Sam's life difficult, and in turn, my life impossible? Steph and I, independently of each other, decided that if Fram made the doubles final we would absolutely stick it out in Indian Wells until Sunday.
But noooooooo. You guys had to lose to Vika and Makiri.
So let's break it down: Frank kinda blew the whole operation. Sam has been, much to my shock, an absolute rock in doubles this week. She's served well, dominated baseline rallies, and volleyed really well. In fact, she put on a virtual clinic today in front of a packed-as-sardines crowd on Court 8. There were queues to get into a ladies doubles match, you guys. Like...you had to wait multiple changeovers before you could get in. Nuts, right?
In the middle of the second set the ladies behind me began to audibly wonder if Sam had missed a volley all match. Considering that they had, prior to that topic, been discussing the fact that they would love Sam, Fran, or Makiri's body, but not Vika's, I am inclined to think these women were experts in all things of the world. So I'll take their word for it. Sam wasn't missing at all.
Fran on the other hand. Well, allow this video to explain:
Fram's reaction is priceless. Fran was UFE-ing up a storm all match, to the point that Sam was just laughing all the time. The easier the shot, the bigger the miss off the yellow and black Babolat that once slayed Sam's dreams of glory.
My totally reasonable explanation? Fran was intentionally mocking her. "See how horrible at tennis I can be, Samantha? Remember when I couldn't miss a volley or overhead back in May? WATCH ME HIT THIS ONE 5 FEET OUT! HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!"
Not that it was all Fran's fault. Vika and Makiri played pretty well, too.
All this is to say, it was a total bummer. I really enjoyed watching Fran and Sam play doubles together and I hope they do it in Miami as well. Even when she's playing like crap Fran has the ability to bring out the joy in everyone, fans and doubles partners alike. You couldn't wipe the permagrin off Sam's face if you tried.
Then again, how could you not break out into a goofy grin when every time you turned around, this was staring back at you:
I wish I knew how to quit you, Frank. Sam probably wishes he same thing.
"Dude. How could you miss that? Awwww, I can't stay mad at you."
Keep it going in Miami, ladies! Fram 4-EVA!
(Pics: Forty Deuce)
The desert of Indian Wells can be cruel to some and kind to others. So far it's been a virtual mecca for Dinara, who's scored back-to-back straight set wins over Parra Santonja and, rather impressively, Dani, 76 64. You know what's even weirder? With her next match against Sam (yes, MY SAM) scheduled for Monday's night session, that's 3 straight matches on Stadium Court, two of them at night.
Indian Wells knows what's up. Put the spotlight on the hamster.
Speaking of cute little animals, I feel like I've seen Sam play a whole bunch this week. Then I realized she's actually only played one singles match. I guess I get waaaaaaaay too excited for her doubles matches with Frank. She looked solid against Pous-Tio, but that wasn't a test in any way shape or form. Pous-Tio had no weapons with which to do damage and the one hour match was basically hitting practice for Sam.
Being the Negative Nelly that I am I will just say that the match really should have been 45 minutes. Sam let her off the hook way too many times. But I like her attempt to get to the net and serve and volley more, even if the results range between calamity and FUBAR.
She's played really well in doubles, though, which is kind of new. For all the talk of her being a former doubles star, which she totally is, she's kind of sucked at the net for the past year. Don't pretend you haven't noticed.
And so we'll have a night match on Stadium Court between two players who probably should have been Roland Garros champions but aren't and whose careers will likely be defined by those losses.
Was it something I said?
(Pics: Forty Deuce)
I mean, you can't blame me. The practice courts were calling and I was so excited to see my friends. Well, there was also the issue of having to spend some time working out some technical issues with my laptop (2 hours wasted!).
Fram bolted to a quick 3-1 lead before Fran started sucking it up a bit and basically left it up to Sam to keep them in it and force a tiebreak. See? Even when she's on the same team as Sammy she finds a way to make her life difficult. WHY DO YOU DO THIS TO ME, FRAN???
Nooooooooot so much for Team Fed Cup.
Fed Cup would bounce back in the second and rather inexplicably steamroll Fram. I was getting worried. But in the super-tiebreak Sam put on her chapstick:
And Fran pumped her fist:
And everything was as it should be.
Good times for all. I really loved how packed the court was and the crowd was loud and appreciative. In fact, when the ladies retook the court for the super-tiebreak play was held up for a bit as the crowd was whooping and hollering. You don't see that often at a doubles match let alone a WTA doubles match.
You rule, Indian Wells crowd.
I uploaded some video of the match, which you can find at the Forty Deuce YouTube channel.
(Pics: Forty Deuce)
There is a heaven. Of this I am sure. How can I be so sure? Because we finally have proof that heaven's corollary, hell, absolutely and definitively exists. I know this because I lived through it watching this craptastic match last night.
Is there anything more frustrating than watching two talented players trapped in their own heads? For almost three hours it seemed like neither of these two would JUST RELAX. Sam looked so frustrated and pissed by the fifth game (she would go on to DF two breaks to JJ in the first set) that I was begging, pleading, whining for her to just go ahead and break something. Break the racquet, the shrubbery, her chair. SOMETHING. But no.
As for JJ, it's still a tactical issue. She was told for years that she had to be more aggressive and so she's trying. But 80% of the time you're like "WTF? Why did you try and hit that shot?"
In the end, JJ would win 76(4) in a third set tiebreak. She deserved the win, I thought. If anything, those three missed forehands in the tiebreak by Sam proved that. You don't deserve to win a match when you miss easy shots like that.
I mean, the match wasn't HAAAAAAHRIBLE. It had a handful of great points, a couple for Sam, quite a few for JJ (some of those passing shots were amazeballs). I'm happy for JJ. If she can get her game back on track and be relevant again, maybe she'll finally regain the Glitter Queen moniker as opposed to the "Oh yeah. Her." label.
But Jesus Christ, Sam. Gauloises thought I was crazy when I cautiously predicted Sam would lose. But she just hasn't looked right all year. The game is 70% there but there are so many little things that, if you've watched every Stosur match all year (which I pretty much have, a majority of them live) you can see pretty clearly. Sure, she's moving a bit better, but her first serve has been wildly inconsistent, forcing her to rely too much on her kicker, which, while effective, still allows her opponent to get the ball back and start a rally. Once in the rally, Sam's losing way too many "neutral ball" points, that is, rallies that start or get to 50/50. She's even missing on the last ball on rallies that she has no business losing, and often it's been happening too many times on big points. She's not terminating on the forehand side and she's not consistent enough to work the point with it without missing.
Last year it seemed like Sam had a good idea of what she wanted to do with her backhand. Nowadays she goes for the two-hander when she's not in the position to hit it, and she goes for the slice when she should hit the two-hander. There's no clarity on that side which I think accounts for all the misses.
But at least I can pretend this tournament doesn't exist anymore. Pack your bags, head back to the States, figure out your shit, and let's hit IW and Miami running, corgi.
JJ has Caro next. She's actually 4-0 on the NEWBUTNOTNEW World #1. I have absolutely no problems with JJ getting it done.
(Pics: Getty, AP)
The real star of this video? Bepa's eyes. And her skin. Suck it, Proactiv.
And I have to vouch for Nails' choice of ice cream. Coming from California, particularly San Francisco, I had no idea that Green Tea ice cream wasn't, like, a thing. We have it everywhere and no one thinks twice about ordering it. It's light and subtle, and since I'm not huge on chocolate, it's always the perfect cap to a meal. But when I was in Australia I can't count the number of times where I saw someone blanch at the idea of it. So yeah, green tea flavored ice cream. Get on the train. You know Nails wouldn't lead you astray.
My week in Melbourne after the Aussie Open was awesome. The Melbourne cafe culture and open until dawn bars suits me. I'd pack a backpack every morning, step outside my North Melbourne hostel, and just start wandering. Sure enough, I'd find something to my liking and settle down for some reading and writing. I was planning to stick around for a week and a half and just soak in the city.
That said, I think I knew the minute Sam lost in the third round to Kvitova that I would be heading to Hobart for Fed Cup. First, it was in Tasmania and I had heard nothing but great things about the scenery there. Second, between her early losses in Sydney and Melbourne, I just didn't feel like I saw Sam play that much tennis in Australia. So two guaranteed matches against top-ranked players in Fed Cup with Stubbsy playing her last Fed Cup match? Done and done. Next thing I knew I was on a plane to Hobart.
Inner Monologue: "What language are they speaking? Also, WHERE AM I???"
It's like she plays a version of tennis that only exists in her mind. She's like the anti-Neo.
It's cute that you guys all get along, but GODDAMMIT, FLAVIA.
Just wanted to confirm: She's still little.
Nice try, ladies. But despite what you may have heard, a drunk vagina is still going to get pregnant. Alcohol and bubbles ain't gonna stop those little fuckers.
As is always the case with Fran, the pictures tell the story.
In case we leave the weekend and forget, Jarka capped off a fantastic swing on her new home soil, winning Hobart, a solid run in Melbourne, and a three-set win over a top 5 player. Something tells me Australia welcomes you, Jarka.
My favorite picture of the weekend.
(Pics: Getty, Fed Cup Site)
Ah, Fed Cup. I always always always forget how much I love you and then you remind me every damn time. I don't know why I thought I wouldn't care all that much about Fed Cup this past weekend. I mean, for Christsakes I was flying to Hobart to go to a tie (more on that later), but I suppose I always need reminding as to how badass these ladies can be when they play for their flag.
First off, how about Sveta bouncing back after losing to THE CONE on Saturday (Alize had never won a Fed Cup rubber. Like...ever) to help Russia come back from an 0-2 hole (Uh...good job, Masha). But really, much props to Pavs for stepping up after Tarpi benched Masha, to beat Cones and pair up with Sveta to win the deciding doubles tie.
And then there was Flavia, who drove the business end of her Wilson racquet through Stubbsy's heart by taking her two singles rubbers and continuing her domination over Sam (she's now 4-0).
The good news is that Sam played two tough three setters and she's not playing poorly. She's just not 100% dialed in yet and I think she was overusing the slice against Flavia. I'm confident she'll be alright though, despite being on a 3 match losing streak (Kvitova, Pennetta, Schiavone). Just as with Masha, the kid just don't play good on home soil. Moving on.
Belgium destroyed the Americans. They reacted accordingly.
Funny thing I read: Mel won 7 points in one set against Kim. Like I said, funny.
Germany did what they do. They perfectly combine being badassedly adorable.
But how about the Serbian Sisters? No, no THOSE ones. The ones that are good at tennis!
Bojangles and wee little AK47 took out Canada, 3-2. AK lost her two singles rubbers, but she acquitted herself well and teamed up with Bojo to win the decisive doubles rubber. She actually came back from 0-5 down in the third to Marino, only to lose it eventually, 7-5. As for Bojangles, there's no way she's not top 25 before the end of the year. Fantastic stuff in front of a not-even-close-to-sell-out-crowd in Belgrade.
(Pics: Getty, Fed Cup Site)
It's been almost a week since the last ball skid across the blue courts of Melbourne Park and, to be honest, I'm still in a complete daze. So much happened and yet, given the gut-punch of Sunday night, it's taken me a while to even remember all the awesome stuff from this year's Aussie Open.
Thank GOD for pictures.
Don't worry. That's just how ninjas recharge. It's meditation, homes.
I hear ya, Fran. I totes hear ya.
Hey. Remember when Andy looked good in white and was also pretty good at tennis?
Yeah, me neither.
Posted by C Note on February 03, 2011 in Agi Radwanska, Alize Cornet, Andrea Petkovic, Andy Murray, Andy Roddick, Australian Open, Caroline Wozniacki, Juan Martin del Potro, Nadia Petrova, Pic This!, Rafa Nadal, Sam Stosur, Svetlana Kuznetsova, The Mighty Fed, Tomas Berdych | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
All through the day I was getting shit via Twitter and email that I was being a total Debbie Downer regarding Sam. That I was being one of those pessimistic fans who just talks down their faves' chances in order to insulate themselves from disappointment. I'm not saying I don't do that. But I definitely wasn't in this case.
Sometimes it's just about the matchups. Rankings, past performance, history, it all goes out the window. It doesn't matter that Sam's ranked #5 and Petra's ranked #28. It doesn't matter that Sam was an RG finalist and Petra was a Wimbledon semifinalist. And it didn't even really matter that Sam had an ok leadup while Petra won Brisbane.
To me, what mattered was that Petra was a tall, flat-hitting, left-handed Czech who could clock the ball. Her height would neutralize the kicker and the forehand, forcing Sam to hit more flat serves, which she would be more inclined to miss. Her flat-hitting would expose Sam's movement issues. And her left-handedness would make it easier for her serve to get to the Stosur backhand. Even if Sam played well, I just didn't see this being a straightforward match at all. As Sam Smith observed, there were a lot of potholes for Sam in this match.
Sam didn't play poorly. She actually played pretty well. But just like the RG10 final, her opponent never shirked in the moment and she was playing as well as I have ever seen her play. Sometimes there's not much you can do about that. Sam definitely had her chances. She led 3-0 in the first set breaker and 5-3 later. But as it happens in tight matches, the whole thing can turn on its head with a missed first serve, or a decision to go cross court as opposed to down the line. A backhand here, a forehand there, and next thing you know, you can count on one hand the shots that just didn't go your way.
I made a bet with Matt Cronin that Sam would hit more than 5 backhand winners in the match. She hit 2. I think I'm more annoyed that I lost the bet. Then again, if I had won the bet I'm pretty sure Sam would still be in the tournament. In otherwords, it was a really dumb bet.
Sam was clearly disappointed but, as always, had some perspective:
Yeah, I'm obviously very disappointed to not win. But I actually thought I played really well so... It's hard to walk off the court thinking you played well. It was so close, I mean, that first set.
Don't really know how I lost it, to be honest. Felt like I started playing a bit better and was probably on top of her and then all of a sudden it was gone and I was a set down. I thought she played extremely well pretty much the whole way through.
She really really did. I sat there racking my brain, trying to figure out what she should differently in the match, but my limited tennis brain couldn't come up with much. Slicing more seemed to be effective but Petra started to read that pretty well and got up to the ball quickly. Drop shotting? The kid has dropped some kilos and her improved movement showed. Petra's tennis was just better than Sam's tonight. You gotta tip your visor and your cap (Sam wore both) to the kid.
I think I did everything right leading into the tournament, during the tournament, and I can't say that, you know, I didn't do this or that or was disappointed in how I handled that or any of it. You know, from this time a year ago I think I've played a lot better, handled myself a lot better and everything else, but I lost a round earlier. What do you do? That's sport, I guess.
Yeah. I guess.
Sam has looked fabulous through two matches on Laver in front of packed home crowds. Most impressive has been her improved movement. Chick can actually kind of stop on a dime and change directions now and she's doing a lot of shuffling and taking tiny steps to get into position. I like what I see. She'll have a tough test against Kvitova next.
The same boys from the US Open are here to sing along and get the crowd going. Here, in order, are the Sammy Cheers from tonight:
Well done, boys and girls. Here's hoping the crowds down the road get into it, too.
Up until the last hour or so, if you bought tickets to Rod Laver Arena today you definitely weren't getting much bang for your buck. Sure, it's great to see the best players in the world play awesome, dominating tennis that reminds you that for all the idiotic criticism of the rankings systems, they are pretty dead on. Top players are top players for a reason: they're better. I mean, duh.
But after three matches on Laver, it was 35 games to 5 games dropped for the top dogs of the day, Vera, Rafa and Sam. And really, it wasn't even *that* close. Rafa won 11 straight games over Marcos Daniel before he retired at 60 50 with an injury. Sam had the courtesy not to double bagel the 17 year-old upstart, Lauren Davis, and sent her home from her first WTA schooling with a couple of packs of string cheese for her troubles. Vera? Come on, it was Sybille Bammer, who only seems capable of beat Serena, oddly.
Speaking of Lauren Davis, that seriously was a schooling. Prior to the match she had been interviewed by every American news outlet that mattered, and she was giving some pretty good copy. Playing in her first Grand Slam and riding a four month undefeated streak, the kid drew the worst possible opponent possible. This wasn't an instance of playing someone like Kim or Justine, who simply play the game she's used to but at a ridiculously higher level. This was against Sam, a player with shots (two in particular, her kick and her forehand) that can't just don't exist in the pro game, let alone the junior ranks.
So you'll have to excuse me if I chuckled and scoffed at this: "I know I can compete with these girls in Australia and beat a lot of them, and I think I have a good shot against Stosur. She has a really strong forehand and good kick serve, but my friend Madison Keys has a really good kick-serve to the backhand, and I'm used to that."
My immediate reaction upon reading the quote? "Oh, honey. Have fun." Credit to her, though. The kid was brimming with confidence. That's a pretty easy thing when you're 17 years-old.
Sure enough, Madison Keys' "really good kick-serve to the backhand" has nothing on Sammy's and from the first game you could see how difficult it was for Davis to get on the ball. You may be able to get away with just popping the ball back and getting the rally started at the Orange Bowl, but pop it back with no pace to the middle of the court on Laver against Sam Stosur? See ya. The kid must be icing her neck for whiplash. It was fun to watch for a while. But then it just felt like the poor kid had no business being there. She's definitely got a quality backhand that she can hit for winners, but past that, it was all Sammy all the time. You know that sound of a stadium full of people shifting uncomfortably in their chairs? Yeah, I think Lauren Davis knows that sound now, too.
It was a professional and mature performance from Sam and it was exactly what she needed to prove to fans and media that she's here to play and the nerves of a full crowd on Laver against an unknown opponent wasn't going to phase her.
At least yet.
As for Bepa, I maintain that she's not as fit as last year. But a quality start nonetheless. And Rafa? What can you say. Moose has just wrapped up his match in straights over Beck and I think it's safe to say that Fed, Rafa, Nole, and Andy have given no cause for concern. They all look focused and sharp.
Off to settle in to Hisense for Ana vs. Makarova. My stable has had a good day so far. One more to go.
I love Andy's "WOT?"
We all were, A-Rod.
The decision to go handle was money, Ana.
The Rally For Relief was a huge success both on and off the court, much the surprise of no-one. On their way to ensuring that Ana will require testing for STDs, the exhibition raised $1.8 million dollars thanks to some very generous and very necessary corporate matching programs. That number will continue to rise over the fortnight, as players will be auctioning off gear, collections will be taken all over the grounds, and more events are surely planned.
People look at my quizzically whenever I tell them I'm a tennis fan. Apparently it seems like a really weird sport to follow with such passion and fervor. Whenever they ask me why I love it, I never say "Oh, I love the game, it's beautiful to watch" or "Rafa Nadal's forehand" or "I just really like the one-on-one competition." That's not to say those statements aren't true, it's just that they aren't the reasons that pop up immediately in my mind.
Nope, I love tennis because of the personalities. I have genuine love and respect for these people as human beings (yes, even Roger). Is that really creepy to say? They're just good people. Is there any other sport that can take the top players in the game, throw them onto a court with mics and a can of tennis balls, and have them, rather spontaneously, put on the tennis equivalent of a Harlem Globetotters show? Sure, basketball exos can be fun, but aren't those more about "Oh, shit, look at what sick skill Kobe has!" as opposed, "Look at Andy Roddick being stupid just because he knows it'll make us laugh."
All the things that I personally love about this sport were on full display on Laver today. It was an absolute pleasure.
The players were in full exhibition mode (well, most of them) and so long as you have Nole and A-Rod around, you know you're in for a good time.
The event started with a team competition with Rafter, Moose, A-Rod, Vika, and Bepa on one team, and Lleyton, Justine, Caro, Ana, and Nole on the other. Caro was a bit of a dud, as evidenced by the fact that Lleyton's kid cried the second she picked him up. Also her dress looked crap. Don't believe me? Ask Judy.
While Nole and A-Rod were the exo stalwarts, pulling out all their usual tricks (A-Rod mocking line judges, Nole doing everything except playing tennis) I think the emerging exo stars of the show were Moose and Ana.
Ana stole the show for the ladies, chatting and giggling into her mic and seemed totally game for all the flirting and innuendo jokes. Her "Novak, get behind me. Well, you know what I mean..." got the biggest guffaw from me. She's come a long way from being the dead silent one at exos (see her appearances at USO Kids Day if you don't know what I'm talking about).
But the point of the match basically involved Moose and Ana hitting to each and making sexy grunts for what felt like a good 5 minutes, and seriously, if you closed your eyes the only conclusion you could come to is that Ana should, in a few weeks, pee on a stick. Because girl, you pregnant with a vampire baby. Everyone needed a moist towelette after that one.
JUST GET NAKED AND DO IT!
Is that a true and genuine smile from my boyfriend?
It must be love.
Next up was Fed and Sam vs. Rafa and Kim. This one was a bit of a letdown after the laughs a minute riot of the first match. There were no antics, just some light, competitive hitting. The players weren't even mic'd up and no one really knows why. But the match was worth it for this and this alone:
If you could please allow me to clear my throat before I add any commentary...*cough*...
You a do your part and donate here.
(Pics: Getty, Reuters)
It took me about an hour to get to the site today, primarily because I had to wait for a tram that never came. I've been reassured that tram service will get better once the Open starts. Here's hoping.
But just as I dropped my stuff off in the media center an announcement came that Sam was doing press somewhere. That's an easy sell. So I grabbed my stuff and headed out, but instead of being escorted to the main press room, we were led outside to Grand Slam Oval, a virtual village full of entertainment stages, food halls, and general "I need to take a break from the tennis" goodness. At least it *will* be that. Today it just looked a deserted Smurf village. They sure do love that AO True Blue.
Sam was on-hand to "open" the ANZ 40 degree tent and do a short presser. In case you're not in Australia, you can thank ANZ for every single one of the gazillion Sam Stosur posters that are hanging all over Melbourne. The other night I was in Flinders Street Station and looked up to see 100 Sam Stosur banners. Heaven? Yes. Sympathy Stress? Absolutely.
Sam came out and "opened" the tent by smacking her racquet through a block of ice. I'm pretty sure she was just as amused about the relative absurdity of it all as me. Unfortunately it happened so fast and before I knew what she was doing she had done it [/thatswhatshesaid]. I'm sure there's video of it, though.
The ANZ tent is actually pretty dope. Not only is it CRAZY air conditioned to 17 degrees (let's see if that holds up over the course of the week), but there's a photo booth where you can get your picture taken to look like you're on court with Sam, and an interactive 3D Wall where you can serve against Sam and have a chance to win tickets to the Women's. Don't worry. I'm totally on that picture business. SOUVENIR.
Sam took some time to demonstrate the 3D wall and it was hilarity. Basically her 3D avatar kept telling her either she sucked ("My Nan can serve harder than that!") or that she had potential ("Keep that up and you might get a wildcard next year.") You can imagine how hard I was laughing while trying to maintain journalistic integritous composure.
Tried and failed.
(Pics: Forty Deuce)
Sam and Pat Rafter had a light hit this morning and then held a presser today in Sydney to announce The Rally For Relief, a two-week long series of festivities to benefit the victims of the devastating flooding in Queensland. The event will kick off on Sunday afternoon at Rod Laver Arena and so far, Fed, Rafa, Nole, Sam, Pat, Kim and Lleyton have confirmed with more players expected as the event gets closer.
So basically we're guaranteed some Sam forehand target practice on Nole's balls and, Getty photogs willing, a bunch of awesome shots of Kim and Lleyton.
I can't wait to see how this event evolves over the next two weeks. Pat said he'd love to raise $1M after all is said and done, and it sounds like the player response has already been fantastic:
But to see pictures of places that you go to, I mean, last week I think the tennis community, everyone from overseas, all the players, they actually really know what it's all about now having seen pictures of Patrick Rafter Arena where we were all playing last week.
To see that underwater, kind of everyone who is not from here realizes how bad it is. It's an enormous disaster. Even where the hotel was, the South Bank area, you've got that beautiful little beach there that now doesn't exist. Again, we were all staying in those hotels and now they're gone.
So I think because it has hit where we all were, that's why, yeah, the players that don't know the area can really relate to it now as well. Yeah, they're all concerned and asking. They know that I'm from the area. Are you okay? Your family is okay? Everyone wants to do whatever they can.
Best of luck and yay tennis. Our sport and our players rule.
You can also donate yourself here.
As promised, Sam practiced in Sydney today, taking some time mid-practice to sign autographs and take pictures. First time I've ever seen a player take the time mid-practice. Awfully nice of her.
Nothing of note to report, really, other than that they were working on her shitty backhand for a good 45 minutes (not that this picture backs me up). I can't be sure but it seemed like they were working on, tactically, when to hit the slice and when to hit the two-hander.
(Pics: Forty Deuce)